17.1 Children who enter the formal care and protection system are among the most vulnerable children in Australia. They are victims of abuse, neglect or family breakdowns, may not have support from their extended family and are often educationally and socio-economically disadvantaged. The Inquiry received considerable evidence indicating that the support offered to children in care is grossly inadequate and too often fails to address their disadvantage.[1] In fact, children in care may be at more risk of adverse contact with other legal systems than children who have had no contact with the care and protection system.[2]

17.2 Although definitions vary between the jurisdictions, a child can be considered in need of care and protection if the child

…is being or is likely to be abused or neglected, if the child is abandoned, if adequate provision is not being made for the child’s care, or if there is an irretrievable breakdown in the relationship between the child and his or her parent(s).[3]

17.3 There were 13 241 children under care and protection orders in Australia on 30 June 1996.[4] The types of care and protection orders that a child may be under and their use differ as between the States and Territories. Most jurisdictions have the following possibilities

    • a child can be placed under a supervision order and remain with his or her family under the supervision of the relevant State or Territory department

    • a child may be placed under the guardianship of the department and become a ward of the state, yet remain living with his or her parents

    • a child may be removed from his or her family and placed in out-of-home care, either as a ward or remaining under the guardianship of the family.[5]

17.4 Children can also be placed in out-of-home care voluntarily by their parents or carers and not subject to care and protection orders at all. There were approximately 14 000 children in out-of-home care placements on 30 June 1996 and in during the 1995–96 financial year over 20 000 children were in at least one out-of-home care placement.[6]

[1] Throughout this chapter the term ‘children in care’ will be used to indicate those children who are in out-of home care placements as well as children whose guardianship has been transferred to the state.

[2] See paras 4.42-50.

[3] G Angus & L Golley Children under Care and Protection Orders Australia 1993–94 AIHW Child Welfare Series 15 AGPS Canberra 1995, 1.

[4] A Broadbent & R Bentley Children on Care and Protection Orders Australia 1995–96 Child Welfare Series 18 AIHW Canberra 1997, 4. See also paras 2.65-57.

[5] G Angus, C Dunn & H Moyle Children Under Care and Protection Orders Australia 1994–95 AIHW Child Welfare Series 15 AGPS Canberra 1996, 6–10.

[6] Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State Service Provision Report on Government Service Provision 1997 Industry Commission Melbourne 1997, 547. Note that the number of children in out-of-home care on 30 June 1996 was actually greater, as the numbers provided by Qld and NT counted only those children on legal orders.